Cate midfielder Daniel Boateng (4) works the ball against Bishop Diego’s Michael Romero. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

The balls were flying from end to end and into the back of the net in the opening two minutes of the first-place Tri-Valley League boys soccer showdown between Cate and Bishop Diego at Bishop on Tuesday.

Once things settled down, Cate’s skillful players took charge and led the Rams to a 4-1 victory. 

Powerful and speedy forward Buba Fofanah recorded a hat trick and assisted on Daniel Boateng’s goal to pace Cate (5-0-1, 2-0-1 in the TVL). 

Bishop (5-1-1 and 2-1-0 in league), which suffered its first league loss in two years, got a first-minute goal from Michael Luckhurst. He ran on to goalkeeper Gabe Rodriguez’s goal kick and beat Cate goalkeeper Devin Pai to give Bishop the lead.

Fofanah answered a minute later when he corralled Pei’s long boot deep in the Bishop Diego end and blasted a shot past Rodriguez. 

“That was a bizarre start to the game, everything about it,” said Cate coach Peter Mack. “We weren’t ready. It was clear we weren’t ready to play and they took advantage of that as they should.”

Fofanah was the distributor on Cate’s go-ahead goal. From the end line, he laid the ball back to Boateng who cracked a shot off the underside of the cross bar and Will Deardorff put the rebound away in the 12th minute.

Daniel Boateng takes a feed from Buba Fofanah and rips a shot into the goal during Cate’s 4-1 win over Bishop Diego.

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Boateng’s tremendous ball control with both feet set the tempo for the Rams in the middle of the park.

“You didn’t see it all on display today but we’ve go four guys there in the middle who can play control possession and quick-strike combinations. You saw a little bit in the box today. But I thought Bishop did a nice job of being physical and bumping us off the ball. Hats off to them because that’s the kind of thing that is going to make us a better team. We have to battle back.”

The Rams made it 3-1 in the 18th minute on the speed of Fofanah. The defending Santa Barbara County 100-meter champion blazed past a defender on the right flank and hit a blistering shot into the roof of net from a sharp angle.

Bishop had a shot at cutting the deficit to one goal in the 25th minute after Michael Luckhurst was fouled just outside the 18-yard box. On the free kick, Adam Luckhurst banged it off the cross bar.

“We kind of figured it out as we went,” Mack said of defending Bishop. “They play a style that we haven’t seen a ton this year and they have a couple of really big skilled guys up front, and that created some challenges for us.”

Pai came up with saves on a couple of Bishop free kicks in the final moments in the first half and made a point-blank stop on Michael Luckhurst early in the second half.

Pai made 15 saves for the Rams.

Cate defender Kobby Nimako made it tough for Michael Luckhurst to get clean looks at goal when he was in the box. 

Despite the loss, Bishop coach Mick Luckhurst liked how his team competed. 

“We played with attitude,” he said. “I mean that’s a good thing — there’s no lack of it. We worked hard, we tried hard. We gave up really four average goals.

“I think their three better players played better than our three better players. That’s what happened today. And I think the team’s disappointment is because they feel like they can win that game.”

Fofanah put the game out of reach and completed his hat trick in the 58th minute on a ball Bishop’s defense was unable to clear out of its box. He has five goals in his last two league games.

“Buba is a special player and he’s just a great kid. He’s come so far and he’s going to have a great college career,” said Mack.

Luckhurst said he told his team it’s going to learn from this game. “And whatever that is, let’s take it and see what we can do in the future.

“I think today, (Cate) just took advantage of the mistakes we made,” he added. “They were clinical in their finishing.

“I’d say also for us, Michael (Luckhurst) up front, they did a good job of taking him out of the game. And that’s the first team that’s been able to take Michael out of the game.”

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.